TURNER Q&A: Travis Levius
Freelance writer and editor. Content creator. Tourism marketing consultant. Since making what he laughingly calls “a harrowing leap” into the travel world a few years back, Travis Levius has found a unique niche for himself within the shifting media landscape. With bylines in Vogue, CNN Travel, Forbes Travel Guide, Lonely Planet and more, Levius has covered “everywhere from Malta to The Maldives,” with a particular focus one ultra-luxury resorts and hotels. TURNER chatted with Travis recently about his past, present and future.
You called becoming a full-time travel writer “a harrowing leap.” How did you come to make that leap?
I like to tell people that I stumbled into a dream job that I didn’t know existed. I was an assistant teacher in Atlanta for two years. But when I wasn’t at work — or even during work — I was thinking of traveling the world. But at the time I only had three countries under my belt. Now, after studying abroad there, I’ve always been obsessed with London. I thought: “In a perfect world, I will live in London and find some sort of way to travel the world.” And I thought I’d have to be a millionaire to do so.
So, my gut feeling said two things: It said start writing and move to London by the next summer. I had always enjoyed writing, but I’m like, well, how do I start outside of my own blog? I’ve always had a blog, but how do I freelance? But I got the gumption to finally take that leap and put in my two weeks’ notice and bought a one-way ticket to London with about $300 to my name. That’s where the harrowing part comes in [laughs].
But you managed to establish yourself in London?
Once I was there, I started looking for writing opportunities and eventually I founded a website that covered food and drink that needed a London editor — unpaid. But I thought it would be good for me to get my chops up. And then a few months later, I realized had a travel section! A PR told me, “You’re already writing about food and drink, why don’t you just write about travel?” And that was it. From that point my career mushroomed into doing all these things I’m doing now. And now, because of this profession, I’ve gone to all seven continents and 50 countries.
So it’s worked out! You helped launch the Black Travel Alliance in 2020. How’d that come about?
A lot of colleagues in the content creator writing sectors of the travel industry, we’ve always had underground murmurings about injustice or lack of diversity in certain places and pay gaps as far as influencer rates. But the impact of George Floyd in 2020 reverberated across all industries. It gave us the courage to finally speak up and speak out about it. There was an organic galvanization of people who just wanted better for the industry. We wanted people to be accountable but also to be open to partnering with us to make these necessary changes. So instead of just complaining, the Black Travel Alliance’s aim was to help achieve a more diverse, more equal industry.
It’s been great, even though I’m not active anymore as a board member — I’m just a general member now. We’re seeing brands take heed of these issues, whether it’s getting more people of color on press trips or making sure that content creators are getting paid as well as their non-POC counterparts. There’s a lot left to be done, but we’re seeing progress — speaking engagements, bylines, press trips and all of that.
2020 was also the year of the pandemic, of course. How did that impact what you do?
Well, for the first three months I thought, “My travel writing life is over!” [laughter] But I think in tandem with the impact of George Floyd, something good came out of it. I was able to increase my visibility a bit more as someone in the industry — it made me feel like I deserved to have a voice. Before, I’d turn around and wonder, “Why am I the only person of color on this press trip? Why am I the only person of color on the contributor page of this magazine?” I started asking those questions and that helped me establish myself as an authority in the industry.
The pandemic also made become a bit more business minded. Initially, I was getting into the travel profession for the experience of it. But I’m in my 30s now, I’ve got to make a living. The pandemic was a blessing in that it really pressured me to think as an entrepreneur and to really know what I’m worth. It’s helped my business and brand flourish.
Are there any travel media trends you’d like to see more — or less — of?
A lot of blue-chip journalists in the traditional media landscape still look down on influencers and creators, right? But now, we’re all part of the same ecosystem. So why is it a problem for people to create beautiful videos and photos of themselves traveling in these places? I do feel like video is has become a much more powerful tool to communicate with people. Words are great, but video is very powerful as well. If you can give people more of a visual glimpse into an experience, a hotel, a restaurant or a museum, then why not?
What kinds of travel stories are you hoping to tell in the future?
My wheelhouse isn’t really that deep, right? I specialize mainly in ultra-luxury hotel reviews. I’m more of a guidebook-style, service-oriented journalist. I’m focusing on that — and it’s been a blessing. I’ve had people of color tell me that they’re inspired by seeing me cover these kinds of places because they don’t see representation of that kind on social media and whatnot. It makes me proud to have a job where I can show people that we’re really worthy of this. It’s for us, too. So, I’m hoping to continue doing that.
Follow Travis’s further adventures on Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn and read his latest editorial work on Contently.